BBM creates new human rights body; ‘window-dressing’ say activists
May 12, 2024

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President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. formed a new special coordination committee on human rights critics quickly dubbed “mere window dressing” that offers “no policy changes” on the dire human rights situations in the Philippines.

Through Administrative Order (AO) 22 (series of 2024), Marcos created the Special Committee on Human Rights Coordination (SCHRC) the declaration said is aimed to sustain and enhance accomplishments attained under the United Nations Joint Program (UNJP).

A compromise agreement between the Manila government and the UN Human Rights Council, the ongoing UNJP is a three-year capacity-building and technical cooperation on law enforcement, criminal justice and policy-making that is set to end by end-July.

Workshops were held on strengthening domestic investigation and accountability mechanisms; data gathering on alleged police violations; civic space and engagement with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR); national mechanism for reporting and follow-up; counter-terrorism legislation; and human rights-based approaches to drug control with various government agencies and personnel as main attendees.

The UNJP replaced the in-country investigation recommendation contained in the Iceland-sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines in October 2020.

The human rights community however is critical of the lack of tangible results from the workshops, noting that human rights violations remain rampant in the country even after Marcos took over from the Rodrigo Duterte regime.

READ: Rights defenders ask UN: ‘Probe alarming record of Marcos gov’t’

AO 22 however said there are gains from the UNJP, making it “imperative to sustain and enhance the accomplishments …through the institutionalization of a robust multi-stake process for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines,” the order reads.

AO 22 amends AO 101 (1998), AO 29 (2002) and AO 163 (2006) establishing the Presidential Human and Rights Committee (PHRC) and formulate a National Human Rights Action Plan.

The SCHRC shall be headed by executive secretary Lucas Bersamin and co-chaired by justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla while foreign affairs secretary Enrique Manalo and interior and local government secretary Benhur Abalos shall sit as members.

The new special committee shall be operational under the PHRC which shall also act as the SCHRC secretariat.

Marcos’ order said the new special committee shall strengthen government mechanisms on investigation and accountability; data gathering on human rights violations by law-enforcement agencies; expanding civic space and engagement with the private sector; national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow up; human rights=based approach towards drug control; and human rights-based approach towards counter-terrorism.

‘Window-dressing’

Human rights group Karapatan however immediately dismissed the new committee, saying it is the Marcos government’s lame attempt to window-dress the dire human rights situation in the country.

“[We view it] as a tactic to evade accountability for the human rights violations committed during the previous and the current regimes,” the group said in a statement.

In particular, Karapatan slammed SCHRC’s premise of addressing human rights issues through “mere coordination,” predicting it will go the way of earlier inter-agency committees such as the one created through AO 35 (2012) on extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of human rights.

Karapatan said the earlier working group has a pitiful record of having handled only 385 cases and securing 13 convictions out of thousands of human rights violation reports.

The group also pointed out Executive Order 23 which is supposed to probe labor-related violations “but has not been heard of again since its establishment a year ago.”

Karapatan said Marcos’ own counter-insurgency program, as well as draconian policies and laws on counter-terrorism are being implemented in full swing, resulting in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, bombings and forcible evacuations, and fake surrenders.

“[T]he systemic roots of the continuous violations of people’s rights that drive the State security forces’ commission of these grave crimes with impunity remain in place,” it said.

While these violations are still happening, bodies such as the new SCHRC are mere embellishments meant to appease the growing indignation here and abroad against the escalating violations of civil and political rights in the Philippines, the group said.

“These gloss over the reality of state responsibility for the extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights and international humanitarian law violations,” Karapatan said.

READ: CHR tells world of red-tagging, misuse of counter-terror measures

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan president Renato Reyes Jr. similarly dismissed SCHRC’s creation, noting the order does not offer any policy change on human rights.

“There is nothing earthshaking in the AO. Unless policies are changed, especially on red-tagging, terrorist-labeling, targeting of civilians, etc., this AO will be a mere token response to the HR (human rights) crisis,” Reyes said on X. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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